Business groups now want 2-week lockdown amid Delta variant threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28) — Leaders of business groups had a change of heart and said they are now supporting calls for a two-week hard lockdown due to the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Tuesday rejected wide lockdowns floated by President Rodrigo Duterte in his last State of the Nation Address, saying restrictions should just apply to the unvaccinated.

He said he was eventually convinced by OCTA Research fellows about the need for a lockdown soon to prevent the spread of the highly contagious variant.

OCTA earlier warned that Metro Manila and parts of the country are now seeing a Delta-fueled surge in COVID-19 cases, but this has been denied by the Department of Health.

READ: PH shares plunge due to rising Delta cases, uncertainties over Duterte's pandemic response

“We are in total agreement that if we are going to do a lockdown, let’s not wait. Let’s nip it while we can,” Concepcion said during Wednesday’s virtual Pandesal Forum.

“If we do it much later on, you will require a longer lockdown,” he said.

Concepcion is looking to implement the lockdown by August, or a week from now.

“If we are to lock down, let’s lockdown now because the rains are not helping our business, the fear is not helping our business,” he said.

“As the fear mounts it erodes consumer confidence going out,” he added.

Meanwhile, two of the largest business groups in the country have some requests.

“It’s important that a preparation period be allowed for business sectors," said George Barcelon, president emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"You can have a severe lockdown but then again, we should be cognizant that the transport of essentials is important,” he pointed out. “Hopefully, this time we’ll have enough time to make preparations.”

RELATED: DOTr eyes gradual increase in public transport capacity

The groups also said it is easier to sacrifice company sales now rather than in the fourth quarter, which they look forward to as the biggest recovery period with more people expected to shop and dine during the holidays.

Government projections peg a double-digit growth in the second quarter, marking the start of economic recovery after five straight quarters of recession.

Another businessman said additional cash aid from the government might be needed should the lockdowns extend longer. Not all companies may have enough to provide salaries when stores are closed, he said.

“For a company who can still afford the salary for the people, then we would like to recommend giving them salary, or if not 50%," said Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

"But of course, this should not be compulsory because other companies are bleeding at the moment,” he argued.

Bon Liong added that while the lockdown will have a “tremendous” impact on the economy, it must be stringent to effectively contain the infections.

However, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said the government should work on “strengthening medical response and healthcare systems” and provide additional social support to save more families from hunger and poverty if the lockdowns are implemented.

"Napakahirap po at nakakasawa na lockdown ang tanging solusyon na inilalatag gayong napakatagal nang sinasabi ng mga Pilipino na ang kailangan ay mass testing, contact tracing, mabilis at ligtas na vaccination, ayuda at paid pandemic leave sa lahat ng maaapektuhan sa lockdown,” KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis said in a statement.

[Translation: It’s very hard and tiring to rely on lockdowns as the only solution when Filipinos have long been calling for mass testing, contact tracing, safe and quick vaccination, cash aid, and paid pandemic leave for all those affected by the lockdown.]

The decision to return to stricter lockdowns will have to be discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.